Beautiful Places New Zealand
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
New Zealand sure does pack a whole lot of stunning natural wonders into one small space and there are loads of gorgeous places to visit on a New Zealand family holiday.
We love to show you all the beautiful natural highlights of a country so this article starts by giving you a rundown on the best places to visit on New Zealand's South Island. Mountain and coastal sights and activities abound in this adventure playground and much of it is accessible and fun for families.
Beaches on the North Island of New Zealand steal the show, combined with quaint cities and geothermal wonders such as Rotorua.
So settle in and discover some of the best places to visit on a New Zealand itinerary.
Best Places to Visit New Zealand South Island
Karen from Big Adventures for Little Feet
Queenstown is an adventure playground no matter the time of year, offering world class ski and snowboarding through the winter and epic hikes, water activities and adventure sports throughout the summer time. It also boasts one of the most stunning skylines anywhere in the World with the town centre perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain Range back-dropping oh-so-perfectly behind.
For a super-detailed outline of the best things to do with kids in Queenstown make sure you read my full Queenstown article.
Whether it is cycling around the beautiful lakes, soaring up the Skyline Gondola before ziplining at extraordinary heights down the mountain side or simply enjoying the amazing and delicious foods on offer, Queenstown tops the list for fabulous places to visit in New Zealand with kids.
Bailey from Destinationless Travel
Milford Sound is one of the most visited places in New Zealand, and for good reason, it’s absolutely stunning! The funny thing about Milford Sound though is that it isn’t actually a “sound” at all, and the proper term for this landscape is a “fjord.” This means that Milford’s gorgeous seaside cliffs and towering mountain peaks were carved by a glacier many years ago. Thanks to these glaciers, Milford Sound is now one very beautiful destination offering views of the mountains and ocean all at once.
Besides just taking in the views, there are a few different things do at Milford Sound. The first, and by far the most popular activity is going on a Milford Sound boat cruise. These cruises take you through the fjord and out to the Tasman sea enjoying views and wildlife along the way! There are both nature and scenic cruises available, but I personally recommend the nature cruise as seeing penguins, seals, and maybe even dolphins make the scenery that much more exciting (especially for kids!)
For something a little more adventurous, there are also kayaking tours in Milford Sound as well as scenic flights. You can also go for a walk along the foreshore or up to the Milford viewpoint. Both of these are short walks that you can easily do before or after a cruise.
The other great thing about Milford Sound is that it is awesome to visit all year round! In the summer, the weather will be more enjoyable for hiking or kayaking, but in the winter the area is much less busy and the mountains are covered in snow (it’s gorgeous!) One thing to keep in mind though is that in the winter the road to Milford can be icy, or even closed. Be sure to carry snow chains and know how to use them!
Abel Tasman National Park
Erin from Never Ending Voyage
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand and one of the most accessible and family-friendly National Parks.
In the park you can walk on fairly easy coastal trails through native bush alive with birdsong, kayak through the clear turquoise sea, relax on the golden sand beaches, and spot seals and dolphins.
While you could choose to walk the entire 60km (37 mile) Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and stay in communal huts, campsites or lodges along the way, it’s not necessary to enjoy the park.
Abel Tasman can easily be visited on a day trip from Nelson (an hour away) or stay closer by in the villages of Kaiteriteri or Marahau. Water taxis connect the beaches so you can choose how far you’d like to walk and the boat will drop you off and pick you up at the other end. Or just spend the day relaxing on one of the gorgeous beaches.
Kayaking is another way to explore the coastline. Kaiteriteri Kayaks offers a range of tours for families, some of which combine a water taxi cruise, self-guided hike, and guided kayak trip, allowing you to see the park from multiple perspectives in one day. Most tour operators will pick you up from Nelson and other nearby towns.
Abel Tasman is located at the top of the South Island and has a mild climate so it can be visited at any time of year. Summer (December to March) is best if you want to hang out on the beaches, but it is the busiest time of year, especially during the January school holidays.
See these tips on exploring Abel Tasman National Park on a day trip for more details
Holly from Four Around the World
There is no doubt that Lake Tekapo is one of the most scenic places in New Zealand. Situated in the Mackenzie Basin, approximately 3 hours from Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island, it is a place you won't want to skip.
As the name suggests, Lake Tekapo is a town set alongside a lake. That lake is a massive and stunning turquoise body of water backdropped with mountains.
The region is famous for having minimal light pollution, making it the perfect destination for some stargazing! There are stargazing tours throughout the year. Nearby Mount John Summit is home to Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve - the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world.
Lake Tekapo Springs is another attraction with something for all ages, including hot pools for adults and aqua play zones for the kids. During winter they have snow fun with ice skating and tobogganing.
If you are looking for free activities, the kids will love the lakefront playground with a flying fox and play equipment. And a walk by the lake is a must-do, with several options to suit different fitness levels and available time.
For incredible views, take a hike up Mount John, or drive your car to the top instead. There is a small surcharge to drive up the road to the Summit, but this is well worth it. You will see the other lakes in the area, plus there is a cafe at the top for a snack or meal with a view.
There is no bad time of year to visit Lake Tekapo, although certain times of the year you have a higher chance of seeing the Southern Lights - Aurora Australis, if you are lucky to be there at the right time on a clear night.
Nadine from Le Long Weekend
The coastal town of Akaroa is just a short drive from Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island. Situated at the base of the Akaroa harbour, it's surrounded by a mountainous backdrop showcasing some of NZ's finest natural landscapes.
The village itself has a fascinating history too. Originally discovered by Jean François-Langlois, a French sailor and coloniser, it was later settled by the English after the treaty of Waitangi. However, the French settlers decided to stay on, and you'll clearly see this legacy in the town today in the form of French street names and inspired architecture.
The small town has a spattering of boutiques and cafes to keep you busy, but arguably the main attractions are centred around the harbour. It's the only place in New Zealand that you can go swimming with the native Hector's dolphins, and there are a variety of tours that will take you out into the harbour to see these special mammals.
If you have little ones with you, book a pedal boat for a few hours and have fun exploring the harbour at a slower pace. Kids will also love the beachside playground (with a cafe close by for adults to enjoy coffee & cake), the white sand beaches, and the Giant's House - a whimsical and entertaining sculpture garden that sits overlooking the harbour.
The best time to go to Akaroa is in Spring to Autumn, during the week if you can swing it.
Trisha from Try Wandering More
On your journey through New Zealand's South Island do stop at Kaikoura - a picturesque town where the mountains dramatically meet the ocean. The marine wildlife abundant coast will surely fascinate your whole family. Kaikoura has a great location as it is just two hours south of Picton and two and a half hours north of Christchurch. The best bit is that you can get here either by road or by the scenic Coastal Pacific train. When here, you should seize the opportunity to enjoy the vistas and get close to marine wildlife. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a must-do for one and all. Take the coast side walk to watch colonies of seals and shearwater birds. Or walk the beautiful three-hour clifftop route through grass fields for a panoramic view comprising both the ocean and the mountains. If the track is too long for you, turn back at any time. Do go for a whale watching tour! It takes about two to three hours on the water and has a 95% chance of spotting sperm whales all year round. Ensure you have a sea-sickness remedy ready. You can alternatively see these creatures through a half to one-hour scenic flight or helicopter ride. You can also take boat rides or kayak to watch dolphins, seals and albatrosses. For the ultimate marine wildlife experience, go swimming with dolphins or seals. If you want to get hands-on with farm animals, visit the Point Sheep Shearing Show or the Kaikoura Farm Park that houses 150 different animals. Kids will love it! The wettest months in Kaikoura are from March to August. However, it experiences considerable rainfall throughout the year, so be ready for tour cancellations in any season. On a rainy day, you can have a fun time indoors at the Kaikoura Museum or the Marine Aquarium.
Holly from Globeblogging
On the shores of Lake Wanaka, on New Zealand’s South Island, the town of Wanaka is like a scene straight out of a fairy tale. The snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps lie beyond the far edge of the lake, offering a picturesque reflection on the lakes surface.
While it is probably most famous for the Willow tree which grows out of the lake that has become a social media star dubbed ‘That Wanaka Tree’ it is far from the only thing to do in Wanaka. The proximity to the Alps offers the opportunity for adventure with skydiving, flights and guided treks over the alps, while the nearby Mount Aspiring National Park offers hiking, climbing, 4wheel driving, and canyoning amongst others.
Wanaka is the home of Puzzling World. Built in the 1970’s this remarkable building full of illusions to confuse the brain will entertain and confuse both adults and children alike. It also has a giant three-dimensional maze that is much, much harder than it looks, but fabulous fun! Don’t worry, there are exits available if you are unable to solve it. Plan to spend a couple of hours here.
You will literally have never seen as much lavender in your life as at Wanaka Lavender Farm! After running through the aroma of the swaying lavender fields, the kids will love saying hello to the resident Shetland Ponies, Donkeys and Alpaca’s. Be sure to visit the shop to check out the range of lavender products made at the farm and try the lavender ice cream in the tea room.
Sinead from Map Made Memories
The 20-kilometre-long Otago Peninsula lies near the eastern city of Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island. It is often overlooked in favour of the South Island’s other famous attractions but for families who love the outdoors and nature, this region is a fantastic location to visit.
Explore historic Larnach Castle, give little legs a run around at Glenfalloch Woodland Garden or enjoy a scenic drive around the peninsula with sweeping views of the beautiful coastline. Nature lovers should head to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head to view the majestic Northern Royal Albatross at the world’s only mainland colony. The cliff top viewing platform here is unforgettable. Near the centre, patient visitors will be rewarded with sightings of the Yellow Eyed Penguin (Hoiho in Maori).
Alternatively, head to Pilot’s Beach at sunset to see the world’s smallest penguin, the Little Blue Penguin (Korora in Maori), exit the sea to head to their burrows.
However, our favourite stop on the Otago Peninsula during our New Zealand road trip was stunning Sandfly Bay, home to some of New Zealand’s tallest sand dunes. Accessed by a family friendly path across a cliff top field, the path descends down a very steep sand dune to this gorgeous expansive beach; your legs will feel the burn on the walk back up!
The beach is quiet, clean and windswept offering fantastic opportunities for beach combing. Large New Zealand Sea Lions regularly come ashore here and are incredible to view - from a safe distance however, as these mighty animals can move faster than you think!
Mount Cook National Park
Hands down one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand's South Island is the famous Mount Cook (or Aoraki in the native Maori language). Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3,724m above sea level and the national park contains eight of the largest glaciers in New Zealand. The lakes in this national park are the boldest blue you have ever seen, it's truly breathtaking.
You enter the park on State Highway 80 where you will find the iconic views of Mount Cook over the road and Lake Pukaki, so make time to stop for a photo or two on the way in. Once in the national park, there are countless options for hikes in the area ranging from easy to VERY difficult.
If you are looking for easier hikes or you have children with you- consider the Tasman Glacier View Track, the Tasman Glacier Lake Track, Kea Point or the Governors Bush Walk (which is more of an easy walk to explore the flora and fauna). You don't want to miss the Hooker Valley Track which is not overly challenging but could be long for small children. Another great hike to consider is Seally Tarns - for slightly more advanced hikers.
Hiking and taking in the views are certainly some of the best things to do in the area but if you are looking for more adventure try the Heli Hike to Tasman Glacier (an awesome helicopter ride and 2-hour hike) or Glacier kayaking on Tasman or Mueller lake.
A perfect hike for all abilities is the 10km Hooker Valley Track. Packed full of amazing scenery this is one hike not to miss in the region.
If you are sticking around, try the Hermitage Hotel for dinner, they have amazing food as well as one of the best views in the park. After dinner, head out for some stargazing as Mount Cook is park of the MacKenzie Dark Sky Reserve, leaving it one of the best spots in the world to see the stars.
I highly recommend visiting in the summer months (November-February) for warmer weather and potential to see the lupin fields
Best Places to Visit New Zealand North Island
Natasha from the Great Ocean Road Collective
Located at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island is the quirky capital city of Wellington. Despite its modest population of 200,000, the city packs in a ton of culture, art, and great food. The city centre is compact and generally flat, making it easy to walk around without the need to use public transportation. Though the city doesn’t get too cold, it is quite windy. If you want to visit during the warmer months, come between December and April.
Wellington offers something beautiful around every corner - art installations, colourful graffiti as well as musicians and buskers providing entertainment. From the city centre, you can see colourful timber houses dotting the surrounding hills. Stroll the waterfront promenade, check out the Maori Arts Gallery at Franks Kitts Park, or sit down for a drink at one of the city’s many cozy cafes or craft breweries. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Te Papa museum, which hosts several interactive exhibitions, artworks, and talks.
To take it all in, do the quick 30-minute hike up Mount Victoria from downtown. The summit rises nearly 200 meters above the city, offering great views of Wellington below, especially around sunset. You may also want to check out the Wellington cable car, which takes you up to the top of the Botanic Garden in just 5-minutes. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city harbour.
The Bay of Islands
Kylie from Our Overseas Adventures
The Bay of Islands in Northland is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand - as well as beautiful beaches and the stunning islands in the bay, it's a great place to learn about the history of the country at Waitangi. It's also a good place to stop during an Auckland to Cape Reinga roadtrip.
When visiting the Bay of Islands it's a must to take a boat trip out onto the harbour to visit one or more of the 144 islands in the maritime reserve. One of the most popular trips is to take a boat cruise out to the "hole in the rock", which is as it sounds and where your skipper will drive through the large limestone formation with a hole in the middle. If you're lucky you can spot dolphins and whales during your cruise. Waitangi is the birthplace of New Zealand, and where the historic treaty was signed between Maori and English settlers. An excellent museum takes you through the history of the nation, and it's very child friendly too. It's well worth doing a tour of the treaty grounds and a visit to the marae (traditional meeting house) if you're interested in learning more about Maori culture. Beautiful Russell is at the heart of the Bay of Islands and a great place to get a feel for New Zealand of 200 years ago, with many preserved houses and buildings. The beautiful Duke of Marlborough pub is a great spot for lunch or dinner on the waterfront and they have an excellent kids menu for younger visitors. The Bay of Islands is a year-round destination being based in the "winterless North" of New Zealand, however it is truly at its best during summer.
Jennifer from Backyard Family Travel
There are so many things to do in Rotorua with kids, making it one of the best family friendly destinations in New Zealand. What makes Rotorua unique is that it is a large geothermal area, meaning there are areas around the city that are bubbling, and drains on the street that are steaming.
The region of Rotorua is beautiful, as the town sits right on the lake, and has incredible lakes to visit such as Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) Outdoor beauty is abundant, so if you enjoy the outdoors, head to 65m tall Tarawera Falls or for a walk or bike in the Redwoods Forest.
Exploring the geothermal areas are so fun, with free options like Kuirau Park and Kerosene Creek, as well as luxury options such as a mud bath at Hells Gate or a full relaxation spa package at the famous Polynesian Spa.
Rotorua is a great place for the adventurous family, with family friendly white water rafting starting from 5 years old, as well as Zorb racing, exploring for glow worms as well and bungy jumping.
It is also an amazing place to learn about Maori culture. You mustn’t miss the opportunity to try a traditional hangi (a meal cooked in the grown) or enjoy a cultural show. Two popular places to visit are Mitai Village and Tamaki Maori Village.
Rotorua is a great place to visit at any time of the year, but if you want to swim, make sure it's in the summer (our water isn’t exactly tropical)
Jules from Outdoor Magnet
If you want to see LOTS of glow worms, this is the place for you! Waitomo Glow Worm Cave is a famous cave attraction in the North Island of New Zealand. This cave is famous for a special type of glow worm species, known as Arachnocampa luminosa, found only in New Zealand. Did you know that glow worms are not actually worms? They are actually larvae of fungus gnats, an insect that looks like a mosquito.
"Waitomo" is a Māori word made out of 2 words, "Wai" is water, "tomo" means hole. "Waitomo" means a stream which flows into a hole in the ground. Waitomo rock formations are really amazing and so naturally beautiful.
The best time to visit the caves is between November to April, during the summer months. If you are with little ones, taking a boat trip is a great choice as it keeps the little people occupied. It is recommended to take the 45 minutes tour, that starts with a walk on the upper level, showcasing magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations along the way.
You get to marvel at its tallest chamber in the cave, called the Cathedral. The cave walk is beautifully lit, so no problem with kids here. You will then arrive at the lower level of the cave, where you embark on a boat. This is when the lights go off, and the magic starts. As you glide down silently in the cave, you will see thousands of glow worms lighting up the overhead cave like Christmas lights. This calm silence allows you to fully appreciate what you are seeing.
The kids will be in awe by this authentic experience, as these glowworms are truly majestic. If you are up for an adventure with teenage children, then try out the Black Water rafting, where you jump off a dock, swim, float through the caves on a rubber tube. It is a very fun way to see these remarkable glow worms!
Samantha from A Truthful Traveller
Sandy beaches, ancient rock formations and Do-It-Yourself hot tubs can all be found in the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula on New Zealand’s North island. This paradise is located just a few hours East of Auckland, and a visit here makes for the perfect family adventure.
The Coromandel Peninsula is known for its stunning landscapes. One of the top beaches in the world calls the Coromandel Peninsula home. New Chum’s Beach is accessible by a trek over beach boulders, which can be crossed when the tide is right. The white sand and crystal clear water that greets you on the other side is worth the short hike.
Further down the peninsula is world-famous Cathedral Cove. While the giant rock formation just offshore is amazing, and the view from the cave is unique, it can also get quite busy. Along the same track is a path to Stingray Beach. This beach is much more secluded, and is lined by chalky white cliffs.
One of the most family-friendly places in the area is Hot Water Beach. Arrive early with a shovel and a bucket, to carve out your own little hot tubs in the sand!
The weather is most beautiful in the Summer, but visiting the Peninsula with family is better in the Fall (March-May) or Spring (September-November) months. These small towns can easily be overrun by tourists in the busy months, which can make some of these beautiful
places lose their magic.
No matter when you visit, there is no lack of beautiful things to see in the Coromandel Peninsula, one of the most beautiful New Zealand destinations.
Te Paki Sand Dunes
Adriana from Czech the World
Te Paki Sand Dunes – that’s a combination of beautiful views of the Tasman Sea and a nice dose of adrenaline. If you are ever visiting the far North of New Zealand’s – the Northland, do not skip this awesome place.
Te Paki Dunes are a perfect sandboarding playground for the whole family. Your kids will love it!
You don’t have to worry if you don’t have your own sandboard as you can rent one for $15/day directly at the car park. There is no entrance fee to Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes.
You can leave your car either on the car park, or alternately if you have a 4WD you can follow the stream and drive through the river to reach the sand dunes on your right-hand side.
Be prepared that you will have sand everywhere, so bring sunglasses to protect your eyes, but not your favourite ones as the sand could scratch them. Also, don’t forget to bring some water because climbing the sand dunes is quite demanding.
The best time for visiting sand dunes is in the summer season, but you can enjoy sandboarding at any time of the year. Te Paki Sand Dunes definitely belong among the best things to do in North Island.
I hope this article helps to plan your family itinerary to New Zealand. Whether it is the North or South Island or perhaps both there are plentiful beautiful places to visit that are jam packed full of family friendly adventures.
NEXT: Make sure you check out my detailed guide to all the amazing things to do with kids in Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound - my favourite part of New Zealand!
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